High Canada had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing Elias Theodorou, UFC fighter, at the Mississauga UFC training facility to talk about cannabis. I understand you are a huge advocate when it comes to cannabis can you fill our readers in?
Well I’m looking to do my part. Obviously as Canada has cemented itself in the forefront in regards to legalization and prior to that a medical aspect that has been around for years. I am looking to no longer hide in the shadows of prohibition and exercise my fundamental Canadian right in regards to health care and be able to medicate as an athlete and patient in my sport. Can you tell us about medicating with Cannabis as an athlete?It is a very personal matter that I encourage people looking to do so talk with their doctor first, which is what I have been doing for the last 2-3 years.
I am an athlete who competes at the highest level of my sport and there is a lot of pain and pain management that needs to happen in regards to my own personal condition, which is bilateral neuropathic pain.
So the best way to describe bilateral neuropathic pain is – you know when you hit your elbow and get that stinging sensation? Well I get that all over my body and more so in the upper extremities due to previous my life as a skateboarder. I fell and broke my hand, 2 breaks and 4 fractures I needed a new wrist with a bone graph and that magnified the arthritis that soon followed in my life as a martial artist and has degenerated into nerve damage essentially. It is something I deal with all the time, not only is it [medical cannabis] my pursuit for a therapeutic medical exemption that will help not only in regards to what I do as an athlete but also my day to day living. A lot of this is affecting my quality of life after I leave the gym and medical cannabis is the only medicine that works for me personally as prescribed by my doctor and medical cannabis health care provider Solace Health Network.
Was it Solace Health Network who got you set up with a licence?
The whole process took about 17-18 months. It involved a lot of paperwork a lot of medical tests, results, reviewing of the results. It started with my family doctor, who I have known essentially my whole life; he saw the progression of my symptoms and was trying to help me find relief for my ailments. What we have done in regards to trying to manage my pain is exhaust all other options and cannabis is the only one that works for me specifically in regards to my condition. Solace Health Network worked 17 months on the application and resubmitting process .Solace Health Network had all the specialists able to look it over. They have empowered me both as a patient and as an athlete.
You mentioned having to exhaust all other options, what was that like?
It was exhausting. It's one of those things, the organization that I’m working to get my therapeutic use exemption is the United States anti doping agency (USADA). It is an American company that is overseen by the world anti doping agency (WADA). The UFC is partnered specifically with USADA to implement anti doping drug testing which I am 100% for.
I definitely believe in a clean sport and I have nothing to hide. More so, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the anti doping agencies and the UFC for partnering with them. Alternatively, it is my belief that cannabis should not be on the prohibited list and by doing so it is putting cannabis with a list of enhancing drugs for example steroids or other banned substances that have merit. I don’t think that cannabis deserves to be on the prohibited list, but it is. So I have been going through the process. I am an athlete and a patient and I play by the rules and that’s what I have been doing in the process of getting my therapeutic use exemption.
I am currently at a competitive disadvantage compared to my opponents who are able to opt out to more traditional front line medicines, those are the ones I have had to use pharmaceuticals but they do not work for me. Those included lyrica, gabapentin, ssri, antidepressants, it even includes other types of opioids and painkillers, It was necessarily for the condition that ailed me at that point. With Lyrica - I was bloated, I gained about 12 pounds in the course of a week. Anyone that competes in my sport knows you are not just competing to fight but also to weigh in at a certain weight. I walk around between 210 and 215 pounds and I fight at 185 so I need to lose 25-35 pounds for fights adding an extra 10 pounds to that is a barrier physically and mentally.
Let's talk about the stigma associated with cannabis in the UFC and what you’re doing to kind of break-up that stigma?
First and foremost I think the UFC has been quite helpful and supportive of my decision to pursue a therapeutic use exemption and go public. They are in many ways very progressive in their own right, they only look in the in competition faze which is a course of 2-3 weeks maybe 4 depending on your body type and they are different from other organizations that have paired up with USADA which look 365 which is out of competition as well. They have hired a third party tester, which is USADA, they don’t make the rules they just work with the anti doping agency that will enforce it and they enforce the rules in terms of any penalties that come with it. With that being said, one of the things in regard to the stigma is the current mindset on the anti doping agency and also other sports as well. Not every professional athlete is in an organization that will support them in this process. I think there are other examples of athletes that have had to cut their own career short because of the fact that the organization that they work for would penalize them or creative a punitive issue in regards to them being vocal about it.
I only sleep clear because of the shoulders of the giants before me, people who have put their blood, sweat and tears into fighting the stigma before it was on the timeline. It is in world history. I think the change and thought process around cannabis is completely changing worldwide. Going back to the 80’s and 90’s and beyond talking about reefer madness and the bit of hysteria that has come from the past. I think using my platform in my role as a professional Canadian competing athlete is to fight for not only myself but those who have fought before me and those after me.
My next fight is in December 2019 and is against a very tough individual who I am looking forward to beating mentally and physically but my biggest fight is not just against one man it is against the stigma of medical cannabis.
Talk to us about cannabis use on a day-to-day basis how do you consume?
Most of my medication comes in the recovery aspect. I try to put myself on a schedule, I have dosed everything out in regards to all the types of strains or application (topical creams, ingesting, vaporizing) personally I use a vaporizer because I want to be as clean as possible in regards to my medical use. I think if I want to be someone who advocates for cannabis it is a responsibility on my part to advocate the healthiest form of medicating. Again to each their own I am not one to tell anyone how they should medicate, I personally do medicate occasionally through smoking a joint as well when I am trying to do a more specific type of recovery but on the majority, it is vaporizing for me. I have two training sessions a day and after each session, as well as the evenings after the day is done and my body is firing on so many cylinders (pain, inflammation) and at night to have a better rest I medicate. A lot of my medicating is geared towards recovery because pain management and recovery of anti-inflammatory is what I am trying to do. I am just one medical cannabis user but each person requiring medical cannabis has to see their doctor and find out what works best for them.
How do you find public response from your fans, family and friends since you picked up the cannabis banner?
I think it has been very positive. There is a very close link with cannabis and mixed martial arts, I think in many ways they have been considered on the fringe when you look at the early stages of mixed martial arts before the current UFC and the owners were able to make UFC mainstream. Cannabis in many ways is the same aspect, the counterculture that kind of built were the framework where cannabis is in pop culture and public opinion from people who don’t necessarily medicate or recreationally use cannabis but realize that putting someone in jail for a plant is pretty archaic.